Growing Up In Ahane

Growing up in Ahane in the late ’60’s and 70’s was quite similar to growing up in any rural community in Ireland. Many of the old ways were on the wane, as mechanisation was taking over. The pony and car were making way for the tractor, empty fields were being developed as industrialisation was coming to our area, and with it, an increasing number of new people were moving in and taking up residence in the parish.

I was and am an only child, born into farming stock, in the year of Our Lord 1964. My parents milked the cows by hand, until an Alfa Laval milking machine was purchased from Mr. Higgins in Limerick City. My Dad took the milk to Annacotty Creamery, along with the many other farmers of the parish. I remember a long line of horses and cars, with tankards, waiting to be driven to the landing of the Creamery. The Creamery played a pivotal role in the life of the parish, even if it was not part of the parish of Ahane itself. One person who worked in the Creamery was Martin Hayes, won drove a tractor for hire, as the farmers required his services – spreading the fertiliser in the Spring or cutting the hay in the Summer.

When the hay was cut and ready for saving, the neighbours would get together to help each other. Meitheal in the Irish! I remember my uncles, neighbours and father saving the hay, and later drawing the pikes of hay into the barn. It was drawn in by horse and float, and later by tractor and float. If there was a plentiful crop – a reek of hay was erected in the paddock. I also remember some bad years, when neighbours were without, and other neighbours rallied to their aid to ensure their stock would not suffer. I would help my Mother taking the tea to the meadow – it always tasted nicer there somehow, and pints of Guinness were the order of the day, when the hay was being stored in the barn. It was thirsty work, or so we were told! In later years the baler made light work of the hay-making season, and two people could now do the work of four or five men.

As the farmers became more prosperous, the lines of horses and cars disappeared from the old bridge of Annacotty, to be replaced by tractors and boxes. Now, this too has vanished, and milk is stored in a bulk tank on the farm – to be collected by the Dairy itself.

I remember my dad as one of the local butchers. I use the term loosely. In the late ’60’s many people reared their own pigs – to ensure a plentiful supply of meat for themselves and their families. My dad would sharpen his knives, place them in a leather bag, and ho where he was needed. It was a tradition that the meat be divided among the neighbours. He usually brought home some meat and blood as payment. The blood was put to good use by my mother, who would make delicious black puddings. The aroma of these puddings still lingers in my mind, not to mention the taste! Fletches of bacon were hung from hooks in the kitchen ceiling, and thickly cut slices of bacon were eaten every day for dinner, along with cabbage or other varieties of vegetables and potatoes. These fletches were a common sight in kitchens throughout the parish. Bacon and vegetables for dinner was true for every day except Friday. On that day no meat was allowed. We had fish on Friday – a custom which went way back. That Church ruling has now been relaxed and it’s up to a person’s own discretion, whether to eat meat on Friday or abstain. Sunday was the day for “fresh meat”, bought from Michael Nicholas in Annacotty, the local butcher, or Dad resorting to killing one of the unfortunate chickens which roamed the yard, quite blissfully unaware of its purpose in life, or should I say death? Many farmers kept chickens for that specific purpose. We were not alone. Nowadays we go to the butcher regularly for a wider variety of meats.

I remember my mother teaching me to bake brown bread amongst other things. The sight of a white load was a novelty in our house, only to be seen when the men saving the hay had eaten their dinner. Then for the tea, thick slices of white loaf, still hot from the shop, were produced, covered in thick blankets of butter and strawberry jam. Now, that to me was a treat anyway!

I digress.

My mother like so many of her generation was “endowed” with a “good pair of hands”. She knit her own and my cardigans and jumpers, having purchased the wool in Winstons of William Street. We would go to town where she would sell the eggs in Gleeson’s of Upper William Street. Helen Gilhooley, who now runs the local Post Office in Lisnagry, worked there. The money from the eggs went to buy some item for the house.

We would buy our groceries in Besco’s, and wait for the bus home outside Cannock’s, now Penney’s. An excellent sales ploy of Besco’s was Green Shield stamps. Tuesday was double stamp day. The stamps were stuck onto special savings books, and with a certain amount of these books, one could redeem quite nice items for the home, from the Green Shield Stamp Shop in Patrick Street. Many a tea set or dinner set was purchased in this manner.

Other groceries were purchased in my uncle’s shop in Gerald Griffin Street. He would deliver them to our home on a Saturday night.

Christmas was a big occasion. Santa was usually visited in his grotto in Tots to Teens. Long lines of expectant faces formed a queue to tell Santa of their heart’s desire for Christmas Morning. Children had their photograph taken with Santa and each were given a little present – as a foretaste of what was to come on the big day.

I always asked Santa for a surprise – and not knowing what I was about to receive – it was invariably a surprise. I remember being told secretly by a friend in school, that I should write Santa a letter, place it in an envelope – addressed Santa, North Pole, and leave it on the outside window sill – where it would be collected, and then Santa would know exactly what I wanted for Christmas.

One Christmas morning as the ground lay covered in a thick blanket of snow I went out, and lo and behold, witnessed two tracks leading from the gutters to the chimney. They were, I believe to this day, to be the print of Santa’s sleigh. That made my Christmas. New clothes were always bought for Christmas Day. Children along with their parents were in attendance at first Mass, Christmas Morning. The one day of the year – it was not difficult to arise – for children at any rate.

The postmen would be laden with cards and parcels this time of year. I remember seeing one particular chap waving on his bicycle under the weight of same. In time the postmen were equipped with vans, which made it easier for them to get around, one imagines. The postman was always invited in for a Christmas treat – a drink. God alone knows how they got through their rounds in the past. The drink driving laws have put paid to that particular custom.

The Christmas cakes and puddings would have been baked well in advance of the Big Day. I loved helping to mix the pudding. Everyone in the house, all three of us, had to take turns to stir the mixture, as was the custom. Christmas cakes were baked for friends abroad, relatives at home and for our own use. The boiled cake went down a treat with young and old alike. Turkey, stuffing and all the trimmings were the order of the day for Christmas Day.

Of course the real reason for the season of merry making was not forgotten. The Crib was erected in the living room on the first week of December – M? na Nollaig, to serve as a reminder to one and all of whose birthday we were celebrating. A candle was lit on the table by the window, on Christmas Eve to light the way for the Holy Family on their journey. It was also lit on New Year’s Eve to see the old year out and the New Year in. My mother would recite three Hail Mary’s to thank the Lord for the past year and ask his blessing on the coming one, whatever it would bring.

There were and still remain to this day, two schools in the Ahane side of the Parish: Ahane National School and Rich hill, at Lisnagry. At five years of age on May 13th 1969, I began my scholastic career in Ahane National School. It was a three-teacher school at that time. There was Mr. Healy the Headmaster, Mrs. Barry and Mrs. O’Reilly. I began and finished in Ahane with Mrs.O’Reilly, because as the years passed, Mr. Healy and Mrs. Barry retired, and in my final year, Mrs O’Reilly was Headmistress. A Miss Margaret Condon had come to teach in that final year too.

They were happy carefree years there. One particular incident still remains with me. A glass partition separated the room of Mr. Healy and Mrs. O’Reilly. Before I go any further, I must explain my full name is Mary Antoinette. I was just in “Infants” and Mr.Healy in the next room was teaching Sixth Class, about the French Revolution, and about my namesake loosing her head. Each time the name Marie Antoinette was mentioned by him, – it was whispered – so that I would not think it was I who was being spoken about. Our feelings were always taken into account.

On June 9th 1971, the First Class students, namely Margaret Callinan, Mary Brennan, Pauline Lyons, Martin Keane, John Keogh and I made our First Confession. In the weeks and months leading up to the big event, we were taught our prayers for before and after Confession, our prayers for before and after Holy Communion, and taken to Ahane Church by Mrs. O’Reilly – who ‘played’ the part of the Priest in the Confessional – to reassure young minds there was nought to fear. On June 10th we received our First Holy Communion at 10.30 Mass in Ahane Church. The priests of the parish at that time were Fr. Twoomey and Fr. Lynch. We were all specially dressed for the important day. Girls wore white dresses, and a white veil. Completing the ensemble was a white handbag, and white patent shoes. The boys wore suits. That was a big day in our young lives, and its significance was not lost on us.

The 15th August was a special day in our house. On that day each year, my Mother would take me to Doonass – to St. Senan’s Well, where we would “do the rounds”, and afterwards meet the relations. It was a tradition with her, as it was with others in the Parish. I always thought that St. Senan bore an uncanny resemblance to St.Patrick!

In a field nearby was a well, which was supposed to have curative properties to heal eyes. My mother went to that well on one occasion, as she suffered from cataracts. Her operation in later years was a success, perhaps owing in no small part to the curative properties of the Well!

Before the Christmas holidays each year in National School, the students would put on the Nativity play, under the guidance of one of the “big girls” or a teacher. Those chosen played parts as varied as the Angels to Our Lady. Much rehearsal went into the play to ensure its success. This was followed by a concert and raffle. It was a great way to begin the Christmas Holidays.

It wasn’t all work in Ahane School. We played the usual games in the schoolyard during sos or break. A watchful eye was kept on us by the teachers, as we played our childish games of hopscotch, ring a ring a rosy, goosey goosey gander, hide and seek or skipping, to name but a few. Before or after school we would spend our pocket money in Hartigan’s shop. Collins’ shop came later.

During the month of May, Mrs. Barry would erect a May altar to Our Lady. We were all asked to bring flowers to the Altar. It was erected in front of the fireplace, with three tiers of shelves – hold the vases of flowers. The shelves were covered in red crepe paper. The Rosary was recited each day by Mrs. Barry, and sometimes she would ask one of us to recite a decade too. Everyone wanted to be “the chosen one” and there was a tremendous din of “mise mise, mise”, with hands raised aloft to volunteer for such a prestigious job.

When we reached Sixth Class, it was time for us to make our Confirmation. The children of the three schools in the parish were confirmed by Bishop Harty on May 7th 1976 in St. Joseph’s Church Castleconnell. The priests who assisted were Fr. Mc Inerney, Fr. O’Leary and Fr. Lynch.

Each of us being confirmed was to have a sponsor. Mine like so many others in my class was my Mother. On that day too we all made a solemn promise to abstain from alcoholic drink until we were at least 18 years old. During the Ceremony, as well as receiving the Holy Spirit, we could also take another Christian name. I took the name Teresa after my Mother, and we each received a gentle tap on the cheek from the Bishop. It was a memorable day and for all our diligence in preparing for the day, learning new prayers, singing in the choir and successfully passing our examination before our Confirmation, we got the following Monday off school.

We were given a good grounding in every subject, and were well prepared to face the realities of Secondary School when it appeared, On the 24th of April 1976, my friend Dinah O’ Shea and I did the entrance examination for Secondary School, in Rosary Hill Convent -Castleconnell.

Rosary Hill was a Presentation run Secondary school. The sisters had come to the parish in April 1947. The school was opened in 1955.The opening was attended by Bishop Rodgers of Killaloe along with the priests and people of the parish. It was primarily a boarding school with some day pupils in attendance. It catered for the wide catchment area of Castletroy, Castleconnell and Ahane. I remember in the ’70’s a yellow CIE School bus would bring the day students to and from the school each day.

The students there numbered approximately 30 to each class. They were taught a wide variety of subjects, ranging from languages to Maths, from Art to Home Economics and of course History and Geography. Many of the sisters who taught there are still remembered with fondness today. Sr. Margarita who taught French, and Sr. Chantal taught Maths, Other Sisters included Sr. Placida Barry, who joined the Presentation Convent in Castleconnell in January 1958, Sr.Una from Northern Ireland, Sr. Anna and Sr. Rosa who was in charge of the Boarders. Local lay teachers who taught in the School were Mrs. Irene Hynes and Miche?l O Siochru.

At any one time 180 students were under the “roof” of Rosary Hill. “Roof” however is a misnomer, as most of the classrooms were in fact single storey prefabricated buildings. The Convent where the nuns resided is now the Castle Oaks Hotel. The ballroom windows of the Hotel were originally the Convent chapel windows. There is still a walled-off area on the grounds of the hotel. This was the nun’s cemetery. When the Convent was closed, the remains of the Sisters buried there, were exhumed and re-interred in Limerick City. The Covent was connected to the school by a cement footpath. A field separated the river Shannon from the school grounds. Each November the swans would “visit” Castleconnell and the “din” could be heard in the schoolyard.

Sports were also catered foe with a basketball court in the school grounds. This doubled as a tennis court. After school activity included music lessons for those interested.

As there were no facilities for Home economics classes on the Rosary Hill premises, the students attended the other Post Primary School, at the bottom of Chapel Hill, the “tech” to learn the art of sewing and cooking under the guidance of Mrs. Maureen Leonard.

Each year at Christmas, the Second or Fifth year students would put on “entertainment” for the girls of St. Vincent’s school Lisnagry. It was described as a “small school with small classes where everyone knew each other”. However it was not to be our fate to attend Rosary Hill, as we discovered on May 20th 1976 it was due to close. Rosary Hill Secondary School in Castleconnell could no longer afford to take in students. The Leaving Certificate class of 1977 was the final group of students to be taught there before its closure. So the “scholars” of the parish had to go to Newport, Co. Tipperary to further their education. Each morning 3 busloads of children left the parish to attend either St. Mary’s Secondary School, (the Convent) run by the Sisters of Mercy, or St. Joseph’s (the Technical School). Buses were laid on to accommodate the students. These buses still run to this day – a private company O’Malley’s provide this service.

When the holidays came around, they were usually spent helping out on the farm. In the garden, it was imperative that the potatoes be planted before St. Patrick’s Day. Otherwise they were known as “cuckoo spuds”. But even if that deadline was missed, they grew anyway.

St. Patrick’s Day was special in that we usually attended the St. Patrick’s day Parade in O’Connell Street, Limerick, like so many others in the Parish. A myriad of floats and bands passed by – all celebrating our National Day. To young eyes it was another day off school, and a chance to break the Lenten fast – one could eat sweets on that day – Oh joy of joys!

The Easter Holidays of course began with Holy Week. The ceremonies in the Churches were always well attended. The painting and decorating was always done for Easter. I remember painting and whitewashing the outhouses to have them clean for Easter. Easter Sunday to small eyes meant just one thing – Easter eggs! Chocolate ones! This custom of giving and receiving eggs was a pre Christian one, originating in Egypt. It later fell in with the Easter Season and its promise of Resurrection and New Life. A friend of mine in Ahane National School, informed me that you could “break your fast” at midday on Holy Saturday, but I always had to wait until Easter Sunday Morning. That seemed so unfair. These final few hours were always the most difficult!

There is a tradition that the sun dances on Easter Sunday Morning. Try as I might, I have yet to witness that phenomenon. Even when the cock crows that morning he is supposed to be saying, “Mac na h-Oige Sl?n, “Mac na h-Oige Sl?n,” the Son of Man is safe! Another story told concerns that of eating Easter eggs, was that of a local gent telling a group of aghast youngsters, who had gathered around him, outside Ahane Church. When asked by one inquisitive child, as to how many eggs he had eaten that morning, he replied in pensive mood, “two and two four, and four is eight” and then, as if in after thought, added, “and two duck eggs”.

St. Patrick’s Church in Ahane was rededicated by Dr. Michael Harty, Bishop of Killaloe on October 8th 1978. While the renovations were being undertaken, during the previous fifteen months, Mass was celebrated n Ahane School. I attended the rededication ceremony, along with my parents and of course, almost the entire Parish. On that day the Bishop reminded his congregation, that we were an “island parish” being as we are the only parish in Co.Limerick in the Killaloe Diocese.

The parish Mission was quite an occasion too. There were two Masses celebrated each morning of that week – the first being celebrated at 7.00 a.m. to accommodate the people working in the city or wherever. The other Mass was celebrated at approximately 10.00 a.m. for the rest of the community. There was always plenty of singing at those Masses. In the evening, the Church was once again packed to capacity for “devotions”. The Missioners usually began their sermons with a humorous tale, but it always had a serious side to it too. One was the shortest sermon ever given “if ye don’t want to go to Heaven ye can all go to Hell!” Joking aside it was a very special week in the life of the Parish. People made a tremendous effort to attend both morning and night-time services, Outside the Chapel yard; a stall was usually erected where items of piety and memorabilia from the Mission were for sale. These items could be as diverse as a statue of The Sacred Heart, to a biro, or Rosary beads to a locket. On the final night of the Mission, the priest would bless the items, and people would bring them home and put them to good use.

On a different note, industrialisation came to the Parish in the shape of Ferenka, in the 1970’s. I remember visiting the site with my Father, and seeing all the various machines was a complete eye-opener for me. A fort was on the site where the factory was to be built. For the superstitious amongst you the workers did not wasn’t to interfere with it. The owner of Ferenka was a man named Godt. When faced with the prospect of moving the Fort, they are reputed to have said that they “would not shift the fort for Godt nor man!” Three JCBs broke down in the process. Ferenka did eventually get off the ground, albeit for a while. Ferenka laid on a school bus for the National School students, as the roads were becoming dangerous for little ones to continue walking along what was until then, safe country roads to school. The bus service or Ferenka did not last long. The bus service ended on August 29th 1972. The Factory was shrouded in controversy from day one, culminating as it did in its eventual closure. As a person whispered knowingly when all was over, “how could they have luck they interfered with the little people?”

One could not speak about growing up in Ahane, without speaking about the great hurling tradition of the Parish. The names of the Mackeys, the Herberts and of course Timmy Ryan of Laught were often recalled in our home. Two slogans most memorable to my mind are “Come on Ahane, the spuds are boiling”, and another one my Mother heard at a match” Up Ahane as far as Newport”. The exploits of these glory days in the parish can be recounted by one far more knowledgeable than I at a later stage.

The landscape has changed in the area, since my youth. Where once there were rolling fields with cattle grazing, there are now rows of houses, with more people bringing their experiences and diversity to the area. Let us hope that in the future, their children will recall with affection their memories of growing up in Ahane.

It was an enriching experience growing up in this area, with its mixture of old and new ways. For better or worse, it has helped to make me what I am.

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